The Investor’s Guide to Vetting a Fixer-Upper Interior: Layout, Bedrooms, Paint & More

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Last week we talked about the exterior of properties and what to look for to find the hidden issues and assess what you are potentially buying.

So, you’ve checked out the exterior of the home. You’ve walked all the way around, made notes of what you’ve found, checked out the neighbors and the street, and made sure you had a good idea of the overall area, and it’s time to walk inside.

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The Front Door

You walk to the front door, and sometimes, depending on the house, you are greeted by the interior of the home before you even enter.

#gross #smellsfordays

You know the house I’m talking about. Mold. Dog crap on the floor. Grandma’s house that smells “old.” Musty, moldy, and who knows what has been growing in there forever. Oh yeah, you ready to walk in?

I ALWAYS have a full-faced respirator with me just in case. If you aren’t sure about the mold or other things inside the house, wear one. I’m in a house like this likely every week, and it’s way better to wear a mask to be safe than coughing and feeling terrible for an hour after. Been there, and it’s not fun.

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Overall First Impression

When I first walk in, I like to just take it in for a minute. What does it look like? Is there a strong smell of anything?

  • Mold: Where is it? How bad is it? Is it coming from the roof or from the basement? Are there noticeable stains on the ceiling? Is the ceiling caving in?
  • Dog/Cat Smell: So gross, people. I can’t believe how people live in some of these! I’ve even been in hoarder houses where the people were still LIVING in them like this.

Anyway, I shall not digress anymore on this topic, BUT make sure you look carefully at what is going on where. Is it just carpet? Is the smell throughout the whole house?

Related: A Guide to Due Diligence for Houses: Key Items Investors Shouldn’t Overlook

Note: If there is carpet in the house, get that out the day you buy that thing. We’ve had a heck of a time getting out certain smells from carpet. Be prepared to basically spray everything in there with Kilz. And you can run an ionizer (rent from Home Depot, etc.) that will help actually kill bacteria and get rid of the smell.

Overall Condition

One of the simplest things I do is to specify an overall level of rehab. Is it just carpet and paint? Touch-ups? Is it all the flooring, all the paint, etc.? This can help you start mentally and physically noting what your overall scope of work is based on its overall condition.

The other thing I start to notice right away is if it looks like someone patched and handy-manned it to death. What kind of problems will there be behind the walls? Is the overall craftsmanship of the house is decent, or was it really put together well?

Overall Layout

Once I’ve made my first impressions, I walk through the house naturally — whatever way it sends me. I’ll walk through as anyone else would walk through it, with no intention to enter this room or that room first. Just walk it, discover, listen, and look. Learn whatever the story the house is teaching you.

Always remember: Just because you can rehab it doesn’t mean you should buy it.

If it’s a terrible layout to you, it will be a terrible layout to the potential buyer/renter.

There are always ways to change layouts; you can move walls, add headers, and vault ceilings. All of these things are very cool. And all of them add a LOT of cost. Just make sure you think through what you are going to do for rehab and build that into the cost of your deal.

investors_order_property_inspections

Bedrooms

For bedrooms, we want them clean, safe, and nice. We go back to hardwood floors in almost all our properties here, assuming they have hardwoods. There are some nicer houses we have purchased that we put hardwoods down in, but those are definitely higher end homes, with higher end rehabs. If there isn’t salvageable hardwood underneath the carpet or whatever flooring, then I start thinking about what I would do in those rooms.

We can usually redo hardwood floors in a basic C+ rental house for $1-$1.5k. Our guys are cheaper than some, and we definitely give them a LOT of business. Not sure if the property has hardwoods covered up by some sweet 1972 shag carpet? Check the corners of the carpet in the closets — this is usually the easiest place to get the carpet up. Or you could try my personal favorite: If the house has floor vents, pull one up (which may or may not be totally disgusting) and then look under there. No tack strip to get eaten alive with there!

In the bedrooms we always plan to replace lights if they look old or worn. I’ve moved away from doing the dome lights in bedrooms to doing basic ceiling fans. Tenants love them, and they cost me about $30 more per bedroom. A three-bedroom house costs less than $100 more to put ceiling fans versus just dome lights, so it’s a big win. We also replace all the receptacles, cover plates, and switches. They are cheap, look like a million bucks new, and you know they work. There’s nothing more annoying that spending $100 to send someone over to fix a “light that won’t work” when you could have replaced all the switches and plugs in the house for a few hundred bucks (with a licensed electrician), knowing they will all work.

Paint/Ceiling/Walls/Trim

One of my big pet peeves is making sure the paint in the home is awesome. We use good paint. We use the same color for the walls and same color for the trim in every house. Look at the trim: Is it white or is it natural wood color? What condition is it in?

Look at the ceiling. Does it have popcorn, orange peel, or knockdown texture? What does it look like? Are there actual patches that have been done poorly or that need to be redone?

Sometimes it’s just easier to scape popcorn and do a knockdown texture (which I like the best, but costs some money and time). Sometimes we just leave the popcorn and spray the ceilings out. And sometimes, it’s just perfect — and there is no reason to do anything to it. And we leave it alone. Just remember, if you don’t paint the ceiling, once you get brand new paint up next to it, you may wish you would have just gone ahead and done it.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Analyzing Rental Properties (+ Free PDF!)

If you are painting trim from natural to white, make sure you are doing something to break down that poly/varnish on the trim, put a primer on it, and then paint it. Otherwise, you can have some serious trouble getting the paint to sit right and look good.

We paint every room in the house the same color on the wall, and we use a primer/ceiling paint on the ceiling and a strong semi-gloss paint on the trim that will take a high level of abuse.

flipping-houses

Now, this is already a lot to digest. So go back, read through the first post from last week, and read through this one again.

Next week I will go through:

  • Kitchen
  • Bathrooms
  • Flooring
  • Windows/Doors
  • Basement Areas
  • Foundation Issues From Inside
  • HVAC
  • Plumbing/Electrical
  • Vacant/Occupied

Want me to hit up anything else? Questions about the above information?

Leave it in the comments! 

About Author

Nathan Brooks

Nathan Brooks is a dad, husband, worship leader, and real estate investor in the Kansas City market. Foodie. Coffee addict. Crossfit junkie.

27 Comments

  1. Mary B.

    Definitely appreciate the mentioning of the terrible layout that can hinder a deal coming to fruition and the fact of how costly it can be to rearrange. I’ve seen my share of those and walk away saddened. A somewhat odd layout often can be altered without hurting the budget but a down right terrible layout is a good/great numbers killer. That’s from a wholesaler and rehabber’s perspective.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Exactly Mary … I think at some point most of us have “tried” to make “them work.” Without having a large rehab budget for reframe/drywall/electrical/moving HVAC … definitely can kill your deal, and ability to rent/sell as well.

  2. Thomas Howard

    A tip for another thing to look for upon entering: If the front door has a concrete step, look for any patch marks on the surface of the slab. In the North East typical termite control treatments are performed by drilling through any concrete porches and/or garage slabs about 6″ out from the foundation, and spaced 12-18″ apart. The holes are 1/2″ in diameter and usually patched with mortar mix or quickcrete. It’s a quick way to know if the building was previously treated and whether you should look for any previous wood damage that may have occured. If the building was treated as part of a sale, any damage would be identified in an prior inspection report. Wood Destroying Insect inspections are required for certain types of loans. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the pest control business but those drill marks are a quick way to spot any previous issue(s).

  3. josh Kundrat

    Great post thanks! If i could add one thing though, be conscious that just because there is a wood subfloor it doesn’t mean it’s a hardwood floor, a lot of old houses i rehab have pine wood subfloors and if you refinish one of those it might not come out as well you hope.

    • Nathan Brooks

      Exactly … and what KIND of hardwoods. Here we have 3 typically … regular 2 1/2 Oak, the “bowling alley” flooring w/ the plugs in each piece of wood, or the tiny 1 1/2 or whatever the width is … and its way more expensive to fix/repair/replace that one.

  4. Mindy Jensen

    Just a note to anyone who is thinking about putting in the ceiling fan instead of just a light in the bedrooms, make sure there’s a fan box in place or to install one. You can’t hand a ceiling fan from the ceiling without one. Well, you can, but you’ll sure wish you hadn’t.
    Great post, Nathan!

  5. Rusty Whitney

    I’d like to add to the list, specifically when looking at older buildings: watch out for galvanized plumbing (instead of newer copper) and cloth wrapped electrical wires (as opposed to newer plastic coating). Old galvanized pipes will have corrosion buildup over time, decreasing water pressure. Cloth wrapped wiring is a fire hazard.

  6. Lydia S.

    I’ve attended approximately 15 open houses here in Massachusetts recently (as part of my education plan) and was surprised to find floor vents are a rarity- radiators and baseboard heating prevail. I moved here from Western Canada and was familiar with floor vents/ forced air gas furnaces.
    Guess I’ll be checking in closets:)

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